In 2010 Wapke Feenstra explored the Limburg landscape by following the movements of land-based products.
16 March – RIEMST – POTATO TRANSPORT
Farmer Coenegrachts collects the potatoes from the barn with a telehandler, he drives a few metres and then drops them in the McCain trailer. Driver Gerard Mollet of Trans Pom checks that the load is evenly distributed. Then it’s off to Harnes in France. After Liège, on the hilly highway, the 26 tonnes of Markies potatoes seem to come alive for a while. Next, cross the French border via the A2; the fuel tank of the Volvo is filled straightaway. Gerard shows a Renault, the truck he usually drives, on the display of his mobile. It’s being serviced today. This consignment goes as far as the first McCain pick-up point. After two runs, Gerard disconnects the trailer and drives home. This bottom dump trailer – with a sliding system and its own transporter – is now passed on to different people, who reverse-park it, weigh and quickly fill a crate with test potatoes. The potatoes are dropped on the conveyor belts at a steady speed. It will take three hours before all the Markies have disappeared into the plant.
19 MARCH IN THE MORNING - LOMMEL – ON THE SAND SUCKER AT SIBELCO'S
Henri Boonen manages sand suckers from the computer in his office. He calls the on-board operator, who also sits at a PC monitor. Sand sucker De Riebos looks like some lazy grazer from a cartoon, but there’s no daydreaming here, because the suction pipe has to be placed precisely at the right sand. The pipe averages 1,000 tonnes an hour and has to be moved often. De Riebos is put in place with four winches and pulleys. It might look like a computer game, but we are definitely moving and bubbles are rising to the surface. The other sucker, De Reiger, has no pulleys, but moves forward in a straight line in three-metre strides. De Reiger sucks sand from the banks. This morning Henri takes the shuttle boat, a.k.a. tank barge, a.k.a. ice-breaker to the two suckers. They moor, sail, and walk on the sea-green decks, while the sun toys with the clouds. Henri has been inspired by his thirty years at Sibelco's. In his spare time he and his family run the Zilvermeer (silver lake) marina, which used to be a Sibelco quarry and is now a nature and recreation area near the neighbouring town of Mol.
19 MARCH IN THE AFTERNOON– THE SIBELCO PLANT
Two men in blue overalls sit at a control panel monitoring information in the form of digits and colours on a computer screen. They watch as sand is cleared from humus, rinsed, washed, vacuum-sucked, dried, transported and dumped in the right silo via the controllable loading point.. It is clean quartz sand that remains after this process. Antifoam agent is the only thing that is added along the way. That’s to prevent it from turning into a mass of soap suds. At the loading point customers get exactly what they want. ‘I know what all European glassworks are looking for’, says manager Jan Cuyvers. He smiles and adds in a more serious tone: ‘A lot of European glass is made from sand that comes from this plant.’ The iron and aluminium oxide content is different for each customer, so it is mixed and loaded to order. The machinery makes a terrible noise when it’s running. No prizes for guessing why there are no guided tours here. A simple emergency stop has been installed to allow workers to pass through the plant. One tug on a long rope and the machinery stops instantly.
24 MARCH – RIEMST – POTATO FIELDS
‘Tomorrow we’ll be planting potatoes all day, but today we’re preparing the soil’, says Chris Coenegrachts on the phone. After the early spring ploughing, the earth is being loosened and levelled with the rolling harrow. They’ve been keeping a close watch on the weather these last few days, because too much rain after tilling is not good. ‘However, there’s a thick layer of marl beneath the loam here, so the water balance in this region is actually optimal. The rain can always drain away’.
25 MARCH– RIEMST – PLANTING POTATOES
It’s a sunny spring day and it looks as if all the Riemst farmers are out working the fields. It’s a hive of activity at Chris Coenegrachts'. His father is tipping the seed potatoes into the loading bin. The farmer strews some powder on the potatoes to ward off black scurf. Two hired hands are on the planting machine. Occasionally one of them jumps onto the telehandler to fill it again. These are big seed potatoes, so they need to be planted at a distance of 40 cm. Every plant produces approximately 12 potatoes, which yields 7 to 12 cents per kilo. You can work out for yourself how many hectares you need to earn a living. After three hours’ work the machine needs to be checked out. Bolts are tightened and inspections are carried out to make sure that everything is still running smoothly. Then it’s time for a quick smoke. ‘This is only the beginning’, says David, the hired hand. Lots and lots of potatoes will be planted in the next few weeks. Straight furrows up and down the fields, planted with tonnes of seed potatoes. Then the weeding starts.
26 MARCH– SONNISHEIDE – SELLING LAMBS*
The bleating of lambs and sheep, interspersed with the yelps of a young border collie, can be heard far away from the stables. Confined to his kennel, the collie can’t welcome the customers - and he just loves visitors. Johan Schouteden has a stable full of suckling lambs, the ideal Easter lamb. Although they do not celebrate Easter, Muslims like suckling lambs too. Right now, the lambs have just been weaned so the meat is luscious and tender. At Sonnisheide lambs are sold every day now. The customers have them slaughtered elsewhere under supervision. I am chatting with Salvatore Spina, who is looking forward to eating Easter lamb with his whole family in true Sardinian fashion. Johan allows him to choose. ‘But please pick a ram’, he says. This year he needs to keep some ewes as he wants to increase his flock. Sonnisheide is to get extra heathland for grazing in 2011. Salvatore wants a ram weighing about 20 kilos. It’s a gamble, but when the ram is weighed it is exactly 20 kilos. This will give more than 10 kilos of meat, the Sardinian knows from experience.
4 APRIL – EASTER SUNDAY – LAMB
Salvatore Spina is the son of a Sardinian shepherd. After his flock had been felled by disease, Salvatore’s father emigrated to Genk at the age of 32, to work in the Winterslag mine. His family came too. Salvatore was only ten, but he can clearly remember the flock in Sardinia. His description of the skilful slaughter performed by his father is especially touching. ‘The legs are cut off last’, he says. Meanwhile this Belgian lamb is being cooked in an authentic wood oven, with oil and salt, for his relatives. The lamb has to go into the oven at ten for it to be served juicy and tender at half past one. The table upstairs is being festively laid as more and more Sardinians drop by to see how the Easter lamb is doing.Salvatore Spina blijkt een Sardische herderszoon. Toen er een ziekte in de kudde kwam, is zijn vader op 32-jarige leeftijd naar Genk geëmigreerd om in de mijn van Winterslag te gaan werken. Het gezin ging mee. Hij was pas tien, maar herinnert zich de kudde op Sardinië nog goed. Vooral zijn verslag over het vakkundig slachten dat zijn vader deed is roerend. 'Als laatste gaan de poten eraf,' zegt hij. Ondertussen wordt dit Belgische lam met olie en wat zout in een echte houtoven klaargemaakt voor zijn familie. Het lam moet 's ochtends om tien uur de oven in om rond halftwee smeuïg op tafel te staan. Er komen steeds meer Sarden kijken hoe het met het paaslam gaat en boven wordt de tafel mooi gedekt.